MARYVILLE, Tenn. – Thanks to a dominating performance by No. 8 Chinese Taipei, New Zealand’s Cinderella baseball story has come to an end. Playing before a raucous home crowd, Taiwanese pitchers struck out 13, and the lineup produced a six-run fourth inning on its way to a 9-0 victory and a place in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
The Diamondblacks put a runner on base in each of the first two innings. In the second, Daniel Lamb-Hunt ripped a single down the left field line and stole second with no outs, but Yao-Hsun Yang, Chinese Taipei’s starter, struck out the next two batters and ended the inning with a fly out.
Kiwi starter John Holdzkom looked strong in a 1-2-3 first, but lost control of the strike zone in the second. Chih-Shen Lin led off with a safety and swiped second and Szu-Chih Chou walked with no outs. Holdzkom then hit Yung-Chi Chen to load the bases.
Holdzkom buckled down and induced a 6-4-3 double play, though Lin scored the game’s first run. Another walk would put runners on first and third, but the flame-throwing righthander struck out catcher Chih-Kang Kao to end the inning.
Both sides were hitless in the third, though New Zealand continued their streak of having a runner on in each inning into the fourth. Neither frame produced a run for the Diamondblacks, as Yang struck out five and allowed only two hits in his four innings of work.
Chinese Taipei finally solved Holdzkom in the fourth after totalling just one hit in the first three frames. Lin blasted a double to left center to start the inning, and the cleanup hitter pilfered third before the next batter could swing.
Chou grounded out for the first run, though Lin was held at third. With the infielders pulled in, Chen would follow with an RBI single past a diving Scott Campbell on the infield grass. Chen attempted to steal second, and when Holdzkom threw in the dirt, he took an extra base on the wild pitch.
New Zealand’s starter was pulled after he walked Yi-Chuan Lin to set up a double play. The new pitcher was Andrew Marck, who had pitched the first inning against the Philippines only a day earlier. Marck promptly gave up a run-scoring single to Yen-Wen Kuo and walked Kao to force the sacks full.
With the score only at 3-0, Marck had an opportunity to stop the bleeding, but walked Kuo-Hui Kao on five pitches to plate another run. Chien-Ming Chang ended Marck’s night a batter later with a long two-base hit to clear the bases. The hit sailed over the head of left fielder Moko Moanaroa, who had charged the ball off the bat and turned around too late.
Riki Paewai was the third pitcher of the frame and, after hitting a batter, finally got the second out. The Diamondblacks’ hurler would once more load the bases, but bore down on Chen to strike him out on a breaking ball in the dirt.
New Zealand looked punchless against the new Taiwanese pitcher, Cheng-Kai Wen, who had a three-up, three-down inning in the fifth. Paiwei struggled in bottom of the frame, allowing a double and two walks. With two outs, John’s brother Lincoln Holdzkom would bail the Kiwis out of another jam with a ground ball out.
Hitless since the second inning, the Diamondblacks used a pair of base on balls by Wen to put runners on second and third with two outs in the sixth. Chinese Taipei’s hurler would settle down, however, recording a third out and preserving the shutout.
The elder Holdzkom silenced the host’s bats with a 1-2-3 sixth inning, and for the sixth-of-seven frames, New Zealand put a man on base. Jen-Ho Tseng walked Beau Bishop, but had no trouble recording back-to-back whiffs to end the frame.
Chinese Taipei struck again in the bottom of the seventh. Yi-Chuan Lin laced a double into the right-field corner to start things off. Holdzkom appeared to have avoided any trouble after retiring the next two batters, but Holdzkom unravelled quickly.
The right-hander walked Cheng-Wei Chang and then gave up a one-base hit to right to Chien-Ming Chang which plated Lin. Cheng-Wei Chang came around to score on a throwing error by Tim Auty in right, and Chien-Ming Chang advanced to second.
Holdzkom’s night came to an end one batter later after hitting Chen-Ming Peng in the helmet. The throw was likely not deliberate, but WBC Qualifier umpires took a no-nonsense approach throughout the tournament.
Christian Wise came on to finish the inning and, despite filling the bases on a walk, got out of the frame without allowing a tenth run. According to the Classic’s mercy rule, a 10-run advantage after seven would have ended the contest.
The Diamondblacks had their best chance to score in the eighth. Scott Campbell led off with his second hit to reach base for the fourth time in the game. Boss Moanaroa shook off a three-strikeout day with a blast to right field, but it was caught for the first out. Lamb-Hunt followed with a double, but back-to-back Kiwis went down swinging to end the threat.
Neither team scored in their last time to bat, but New Zealand was the first team to successfully avoid the mercy rule in a Classic game versus Chinese Taipei. They were unable, though, to break the host’s shutout streak. The Diamondblacks’ rally in the eighth and a drive to the warning track in right by the last Kiwi hitter of the game, Alan Schoenberger, were the only really chances.
Campbell and Lamb-Hunt shared New Zealand’s four safeties, and neither was among Taiwan’s 13 Ks. They each earned a base on balls, while Bishop reached base twice on a walk. New Zealand stranded 10 runners, nine of which were with less than two outs.
Chien-Ming Chang, Chih-Shen Len, and Yen-Wen Kuo all had a brace of hits. Chang drove in four and had one of Taiwan’s 10 walks. The host team had four more doubles, including Yi-Chuan Lin’s third of the tourney. Chinese Taipei stole four bases off Bishop after having only purloined one in the first two games.
Particularly noticeable throughout the game was the lack of the Diamondblacks’ aggressive running game, which had produced seven steals in the previous two games. Kao deserved credit for stifling that facet of New Zealand’s attack, and was no doubt inserted into the starting nine thanks to his rifle arm.
Yang earned the victory with his strong performance. Chinese Taipei’s five hurlers allowed only four hits over nine shutout frames. John Holdzkom dropped to 1-1 for the losers, who sent six pitchers to the mound.
After dominating WBCQ opponents 35-0, Chinese Taipei will await their selection to one of the four pools in the 2013 Classic. It is an almost foregone conclusion that they will appear in a bracket already assigned to Taichung, Taiwan.
Assuming they will join the group, they would host South Korea (No. 4 in the world), the Netherlands (No. 6), and Australia (No. 12). They will tune up for the global tournament by hosting the 2012 Asian Baseball Championship at the end of November.
Over the course of four days, New Zealand went from an unknown quantity to an almost certain selection for the 2016 WBC qualifying rounds. They would likely remain in a pool that included the Philippines and was hosted by the loser of the supposed WBC bracket in Taiwan.
The World Baseball Classic commences on Mar. 2. All games are televised on www.worldbaseballclassic.com. Check out Extra Innings for previews, reviews, and analysis.